The Bedtime Routine That Boosts Kids' Math Scores

Feeling a little anxious about helping your kid with her math homework? Or just looking for a way to help give your child’s math scores a boost? Reading a bedtime math-related story can help on both counts.

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A new study from the University of Chicago, which involved nearly 600 first graders, had parents and their children interact with an app called Bedtime Math, an engaging math story that the families had to work together to solve. The study found that reading the short numerical story problems on a regular basis both improved children’s math scores across the school year — and eased parents’ anxiety around math.

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So what is it about the story format that makes it successful? “Stories are very interesting to kids, and parents feel comfortable reading kids stories — this is something they normally do,” Susan Levine, Ph.D., co-author of the study and co-director of the Center for Early Childhood Research at the University of Chicago, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Fitting math into this format feels natural. In addition, the stories show kids that math has a purpose — the stories are engaging and the math is used to answer problems that are interesting to kids.”

In general, talking about math — from numbers to shapes — with kids plays an important role in math achievement. According to the researchers: “The amount of number talk parents engage in with their preschool children predicts 4- and 5-year-olds’ grasp of foundational number concepts. The frequency with which parents talk about shape and spatial features of objects — using words like circle, tall, edge, and corner — also predicts children’s spatial thinking (an important component of mathematical success) as they enter kindergarten.”

Sian L. Beilock, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor in the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, tells Yahoo Parenting, “A lot of research shows that parents who talk to their kids about math — such as, ‘If you have two cookies and I give you one more, how many will you have?’ — is important for kids’ math achievement. It’s really the interaction between parent and child during the story that allows [the learning] to happen.”

The researchers also found that both children and parent experience positive results even if they didn’t use the app every night. Families who read a math-related story at bedtime once a week still saw gains in math achievement scores by the end of the school year, especially for children whose parents are anxious about math.

For moms and dads who might not know where to begin when it comes to talking to their kids about math, the app serves as a helpful starting point and guide. “We think providing stories and answers helps provide scaffolding for the parents and gives them a way to talk about math,” says Beilock. “Parents who are the most anxious about math benefit the most.”

Adds Beilock: “The study drives home this idea that if we can start thinking about math not just as the purview of the school but also the home, then every kid can put their best foot forward with math achievement in school.”

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